For many of us active mamas, we have more or less been “active” for most of our lives. Or maybe it is more inclusive to say that, in my case, I didn’t get pregnant and decide to train for my first marathon at 16 weeks pregnant. While exercise is certainly motivation for a healthy state of mind and healthy body postpartum, I have been active for the better part of my life. Being active during pregnancy was encouraged by both my obstetrician and midwife, and was integral to my happiness over a combined 80 weeks of pregnancy.
But, as the first birthday of our younger son draws near, I have become increasingly reflective about the view and value of sport in my life right now. As someone who has identified as an athlete for the better part of 30 years, taking on this new moniker of “mom” has been an evolution. This is not ground breaking news. And trust, I am well aware that Serena Williams and I are not remotely in the same category of athlete. But, as a mere mortal compared to Ms. Williams’ undeniable G.O.A.T. status, I can relate to her comments postpartum about transitioning from being an athlete to identifying as a mom.
There may be some science behind this, and the suppositions below are purely my own observations. But, here is how I am reflecting on my athletic evolution.
Decade 1: Play
Our first decade of life is all about play. Yes, there are organized sports (and crazy early these days as I am reminded that I do not yet need to sign-up our 3 year old son for organized soccer), but for the most part, we learn about sport and activity through play. Jumping, climbing and running are the foundations of make believe and reality for young children. I am sure that people with education and expertise in this field would argue that the real feats of athleticism until age 10 are birth, rolling over, crawling and learning to walk. But, once these foundations are laid, play begins.
My fondest memories as a young child are less about jumping rope (lacked the coordination) or seeing how far I could stretch for the sit-and-reach for the Presidential Fitness Test (which, by the way, were among my most dreaded days in elementary school). My play as a child was camping and hiking with my dad, learning to ride my banana seat bike and skiing the slopes on family trips with my parents and grandparents. I learned to breathe deeply in the forest, get back up when I skinned my knees (which was often) and take risks. It was fun!
Decade 2: Organized Sport
Once middle school hit, so did organized team sports. My friends were deciding between soccer and field hockey; basketball and softball … it took me some time to find a good fit. My best friend (who also happens to be the founder of Arctic Lynx) was crazy athletic … she could run point on the basketball court like no one else in the 4th grade and loved to play rec softball, shining at every position. Me, I wasn’t so skilled yet. Left-handed shortstops aren’t exactly set-up for success and I was part of the very non-competitive “C team” for 7th grade softball. It was brutal.
Then I found field hockey. I remember coming home after the first day of practice and taking my mom through the entire team warm-up in the tiny living room of our condo. The aunt whom I most adored had also played field hockey, though I don’t think I ever saw her play. Mostly I remember that we had to ship her field hockey stick from Eastham, Massachusetts to Wilmington, Delaware one hot August day after she had left it at my grandma’s house and needed it for the season.
The lessons I learned as a teenager on an organized team were invaluable. As a young woman, sport was a source of confidence, wellness and friendship. It was on the playing field that I learned we may not always like everyone wearing the team jersey, but we are all working toward a common goal (win!), so better learn how to work together for those 60 minutes of game-time or 60 seconds around the track. This lesson translated into the classroom on group projects in high school, college and graduate school and, further, into the workplace even now. It is no surprise to me that 94% of female CEOs also identify as athletes.
Decade 3: Performance
My third decade was about individual performance - I was peaking as a scholarship student-athlete in college, and also gained new confidence as a runner after graduation. Not yet a parent, I had time and resources to devote to sport and thus my 20’s were a time of pure self-indulgence in the very best way. What started out as “I would like to run the New York Marathon next year” turned quickly into a habit of the very best kind. Those days translated to hours running in Central Park, forging new and enduring friendships in my running club and traveling around the country to run road races.
The natural drug of endorphins was addictive and combined with pride in setting and achieving new goals, including qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon. For you mamas who are not runners and/or are not from New England, the hallowed ground of our country’s oldest marathon is sacred. As the dad of one of my running partners said, “every runnah wants to have a place to be on Patriot’s Day”. (The Boston Marathon is the third Monday of April annually, a Massachusetts state holiday called Patriot’s Day). It couldn’t get any better than this! Or so I thought.
Decade 4: Play
Then I became a mom. And my heart opened up to love in a whole new way. In the amazing full circle of life, and here in my fourth decade, I find myself transported back in time to the play stage of my athletic life. I am running after my 3 year old and 10-month old on trails, in sand and at playgrounds. My favorite moment of athleticism over the past year was climbing on the parallel bars in a bear crawl, 6 months pregnant, to join my son who encouraged me to “Come on mommy” … how could I say no to that little toddler voice? (Sidenote: I was wearing my arctic lynx pants that day at tumbling class … the bellyband stayed put and the other parents in the class were spared an R-rated movie due to the opaque nature of the fabric). Being a mom and playing with my children is rewarding in ways that 20 years ago, I’d never have imagined.
I know that I have more athletic feats in me. I can say that my proudest athletic achievements now are two healthy pregnancies, childbirth (yes, even a C-section can be an athletic adventure) and postpartum recovery.
But I am not done. I will return to the black diamond ski runs again … but first, I am going to experience the joy of teaching our sons to ski.
I have a few more marathons in me … but first I am toeing the line with my 3 year old to “ready, set, go!” in a footrace to the slide.
I am still untapped potential … and so are our sons.
And so, for now, I am content teaching them to experience joy from activity, to embrace the freedom that comes from movement and instilling within them an enduring appreciation for the great outdoors.Rachel.